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House of Blues Gospel Brunch – a must-see!

Disclosure: We received comp tickets to attend this event.

I grew up with music as a very big part of my life. It was an essential part, in fact. My mom sang. I sang. Many members of my extended family sang or played instruments. I have such great memories of neighborhood jam sessions where my uncle played steel guitar, a cousin played fiddle my aunt played acoustic guitar, and another cousin played mandolin or banjo. It is part of who I am and maybe why I miss singing so much (enough to torture my friends regularly with karaoke, in fact).

You might not know this, but I grew up attending a small country church. So in addition to country music, bluegrass, and rock-n-roll, I had gospel. Lots of old-fashioned, southern-style, tap-your-toes gospel music. You name an old church hymn and I can probably sing it. (Old Rugged Cross? Check. Victory in Jesus? Check. Power in the Blood? Check.)

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Fast forward to now and one of the things I miss most is Sunday Church music. So when I heard House of Blues was promoting their Gospel Brunch, I just knew I had to check it out. I gathered up a few girlfriends and we went to HOB in downtown San Diego to see if it lived up to its reputation.

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(Melissa in front; Maggie, Debbie, Elizabeth, Rory, me; Abby had to leave & missed the photo)

I have to say, it totally did. The food (it is a brunch, after all) was great. It’s a buffet and there’s a lot of variety, with some good old southern food thrown in. We all had more than enough to eat.

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And the music. Oh, the music. It fed my soul, y’all. I needed that. Great choir, a little humor and fun thrown in, and the plenty of toe-tappin’ foot stompin’ music. They even pulled some people out of the audience to sing and each of them could sing crazy-good, too! Such a great way to spend a Sunday morning. Feed your stomach, then feed your soul.

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I highly recommend it and plan on taking the hubby back to see it with me. (It’s kid-friendly, but it depends on their age and how well they handle the crowd and noise. It gets a little rambunctious — in a good way.) It was a great time – and I think all of my girlfriends agreed!

Disclosure: We received complimentary tickets so we could attend Gospel Brunch. We were not required to write a review in any way, but I am doing so because I wanted to share my thoughts on it. All views are my own.

Review: Graco SnugRide® Click Connect™ 40

Last week I went to a #GracoSafety home party where I got to check out a SnugRide® Click Connect™ 40. I’ve been a fan of Graco for a long time. In fact, my oldest has a Graco car seat because it has the highest weight rating I could find for a 5-point harness seat: 65 lbs. And that’s a huge comfort considering my son was so big he outgrew his infant car seat way early – I wanted to make sure he didn’t outgrow this one before he hit four years old.

Which brings me back to the new SnugRide® Click Connect™ 40 – it is rear-facing up to 40 lbs. Oh, how I could have used that when my oldest was a wee babe! My youngest is still under 40 lbs. (and my back is so, so grateful for that as I put him in and out of his seat every morning), so he can fit in this seat – without getting scrunched.

You see, the base of this seat is adjustable, so your child can have additional legroom as s/he grows. So you have fewer worries about their knees being halfway to their chest. And it has a little footrest that they can put their tootsies on – great for protecting your seats from those toddler shoes.

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(Danielle & I inspecting the seat. Photo from SITS.)

What were we looking at? There’s an adjustment for the headrest, which also moves the straps. NO MORE RETHREADING STRAPS. Cue angel choirs singing – that is one of my least favorite things about car seats.So why IS it a big deal that this seat can go from infant to two years old in rear-facing mode? Because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children now stay rear facing until the age of two. And while I’ve seen seats that are rear-facing, I’ve never seen one that goes from infant all the way up to two that does that. And with the adjustable straps, you have an easy-to-use seat that will keep your kiddo in the safest position for them.

#GracoSafety(Closer view of the seat.)

And I love this seat so much that I’m giving it to a friend who has an infant (I think he’s close to 2 months old now) so she can be sure that he’s safe all the way up until he’s a toddler. She’s a first time mom and I’m hoping that it gives her one less thing to worry about. And since it’s from Graco, I feel confident that it’ll be reliable and comfortable for her precious little cargo.

The Graco SnugRide® Click Connect™ 40 – the first and only newborn to two-year infant car seat that actually grows with your baby from four pounds all the way up to 40 pounds. The car seat is designed for a parent on the go. The infant car seat can be easily removed from the base and used as a carrier when the infant is small, providing portability and convenience so you can easily move your infant in and out of the car without disturbing them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently made the recommendation to keep all children in rear-facing car seats until the age of 2. Graco set out to make this product so parents can keep infants rear facing longer while still keeping them comfortable.

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Graco. The opinions and text are all mine.

A review of Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender

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Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender
A Life in Pictures
by Sean O’Hagan
Publication Date: Oct. 16th, 2012

I recently received a review copy of the fantastic book pictured here. And I was super excited to see it arrive on my doorstep. Freddie Mercury is one of my favorite musical artists of all time. I grew up listening to Queen. One of the very first Homecoming games I ever went to had We Will Rock You as the theme. (I think we did We Are the Champions one year as well.) In fact, for many years I had the buttons they handed out with our mascot and the Homecoming theme written on it. Ahem. ANYWAY, did I mention how much I love Queen?

I have to admit that I had heard Bohemian Rhapsody for years and years. I liked it, of course, but I really got to know it all over again in Wayne’s World. Yep. I was in college (the first time) and a friend loved that movie so very much I think we watched it in the neighborhood of 25 times. Maybe more.

In the years to follow, I rediscovered so many Queen songs: You’re My Best Friend, Death on Two Legs, Killer Queen, Flash Gordon (yep, even saw the movie), I Want to Break Free, Another One Bites the Dust (ooh, wait, I think that was a Homecoming theme song, too!), Bicycle, Under Pressure, Fat Bottomed Girls…. Really, I could keep going.

When you first open the book, there’s a great history of Freddie Mercury and Queen. And I absolutely loved the section that talked about the amazing infectious qualities to Bohemian Rhapsody. (Another aside – I didn’t know who Scaramouche was until my college English Lit classes.) Some really good stuff.

And then, you reach the photos. So beautiful and touching. I was a little sad looking through them, it made me miss him and his music so much. But it is also a wonderful tribute to Freddie. There are some stunning photos in there, with bits and pieces of Freddie’s history woven throughout. I haven’t even gotten to the audio interviews yet, I’ve been so lost in the photographs.

If you are a fan of Freddie Mercury and / or Queen, I think you’ll really enjoy this book. It’s still sitting on my desk, waiting for me to flip through it again. It’s definitely a keeper.

[I have one very small quibble - the descriptions next to the photos are in a fairly small print. As my eyes get older (hey, I'm not OLD, old, but still, the 40 bus is about to hit me, okay?) I find it harder to read really small print. We're talking smaller than normal book print. So grab your reading glasses - you might need them. Not that we fans of Freddie are aging or anything. Not at all.]

For days after I first cracked it open, I thought about how much Queen’s music has been a part of my life. I even listened to a playlist that Sondra set up on Spotify, and fired up their rotation on my iPod. Bittersweet, but beautiful. As one of my friends commented on my photo of the book when I posted it to Facebook:

“Greatest Rock Voice Ever”

I think that says it all.

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher, Insight Editions. Opinions are my own. Book link uses my Amazon affiliate account.

If I could I would run away and join the Circus

Last night I got the chance to see Cirque du Soleil for the very first time. And what a show to see for your first. It was premiere night for TOTEM by Cirque du Soleil and man, do they put on a production. Cirque du Soleil has been putting on shows for close to 30 years. I wondered how they could be original and creative and amazing after all that time. But they are. They are fantastically good at what they do.

TOTEM is about the origin of our species. It starts with a big shape covering the stage that’s reminiscent of a turtle. But underneath that shell there’s a surprise in store for you. And from that moment, you will be mesmerized by the whole thing. The acrobats, the actors, even the stage are amazing. I have never seen a stage like that. It was like it was alive. Not only did it serve as part of the show by having scenery reflected on it, it moved like a serpent or scorpion. I was blown away by the imagination of the people who built the set.

I’ve seen some Cirque du Soleil shows featured on television. Each time, I have watched, pretty much incredulous at the feats performed. Nothing, but NOTHING compares to seeing it live. I found myself holding my breath more than once, sure that someone was going to miss their cue or timing by just a teensy bit. But they never do.

Dude, I can’t even walk across the room without tripping over something (yeah, even when the kids toys are actually put away). These actors/ acrobats/ crazy, scary good performers are flawless.

And these women:

image courtesy of TOTEM by Cirque du Soleil

Wow. Just… wow. They were incredible. I can’t even look at a unicycle without falling over. And these women were throwing things. With their feet! While on a unicycle that’s, what, 7 or 8 feet tall? Who does that? These women do. And they are fantastically talented at it. I am running out of adjectives here. I am not kidding. I cannot stop talking about it.

Wait til you see the guys that climb things like monkeys. I almost got a headache I was holding my breath so much. I have never seen things done midair like that. EVER. And the cosmonauts? I will give you a little spoiler and say that I got really excited when I saw them pull out the Russian barres. Three of them. At the same time. If it weren’t so scary and required amazing acts of skill and balance, I would absolutely love to do it. The jumping in the air? I would love. The balance? I would totally fail at. Big time.

I was talking with some friends during intermission and we all agreed that we love that Cirque du Soleil gives new life to these amazing performers that a couple of decades ago could never happen unless you were able to do something that got you into the Olympics. Some of these performers are talented on that level. Actually, all of them probably are.

One more thing. I cannot forget the musicians. (My daughter would hurt me if I did.) They went from tribal sounding music to gypsy music to almost techno music (using scientific instruments, no less). They are wildly talented. I should have bought the soundtrack. But maybe you can pick it up for me, because I have a code for you to save some money on tickets if you get them before Mother’s Day. How’s 25% off hit you? Buy just two tickets and you’re looking at saving around $50 or so in certain sections.

By the way, when you look at the map, don’t be deceived by the seating chart. While it may look like you’re a ways from the stage when you’re in the upper rows, you’re not really. You can see everything just fine. Yes, there are some supports that may block a little, but it’s really minimal. The action moves around enough that it won’t be an issue. So here are the details and fine print:

TOTEM by Cirque du Soleil has hit San Diego, and you can save 25% on tickets and make this Mother’s Day more memorable! Get 25% off price level 1, 2 or 3 tickets on select performances, and treat mom to an unforgettable experience. TOTEM is now performing for a limited time at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Click here to take advantage of this generous offer: http://tinyurl.com/MissPrissTOTEMMD

totem_mday_san_diego_300x250[1][3][2] In order to receive this special offer you will need to be a Cirque Club member—registration is fast and free, and Cirque Club members receive advance access to the best seats under the Grand Chapiteau, ticket upgrades, partner promotions and insider information on the world of Cirque du Soleil!

Applicable on select performances on Price level 1, 2 & 3 only. Prices shown during the purchasing process already reflect this offer and will appear as a 25% discount on each ticket. Maximum of 19 tickets per purchase. All tickets subject to regular service and delivery charges. Cannot be combined with any other offer. Not applicable to previous purchases. All sales final, no refunds nor exchanges. Offer expires May 14, 2012 at 11:59 p.m. Offer applicable on TOTEM in San Diego, CA.

Disclosure: I received tickets to the premiere. I was asked to please provide a review, but all words, save the promotional text for the discount, are my own. I really do love Cirque du Soleil and have always wanted to attend a show.

Discover the Secret Science of Dirt at KinderCare

Some of you may remember that we have an older daughter who is currently in college. When she was younger and my husband needed childcare, he turned to our local KinderCare. It was close, convenient and had a good reputation locally. And it was affordable.

Things haven’t changed all that much—it’s still close to us and we’ve been considering putting our 3-year-old son in a couple of days a week. I think he needs the socialization. And mommy just may, might, maybe need a tiny bit of a break. Maybe. But you know me, I can’t make up my mind. Yet.

Coming up, though, is the perfect opportunity for us to try things and see how they go. That’s because KinderCare is presenting a week-long Spring Break camp called the Secret Science of Dirt. During Spring Break, kids will have the chance to dig into the science behind “growing green” and get excited about the natural world.

Preschoolers (including my son) will experience hands-on science lessons, veggie cooking, and craft-making. I bet my son will love the science lessons, especially if he gets to dig in dirt. I imagine him coming home a little disheveled but with a big grin on his face. He’ll manage to find the dirt, wherever it is. Trust me.

Older kids will plant and tend vegetables, make compost, create garden-related crafts, and (after clean up!) prepare tasty veggie treats. I can only hope that seeing all of the kids eating and preparing veggies will inspire my son to try them.

I’m looking forward to this camp for my son. I think he’ll learn a lot, meet some new friends and get a chance to play with someone other than (boring) mommy.

Spring Break already over in your area? Take a look at their awesome Summer Camps as well.

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Want to discover some fun things to do at home? Check out this take-home adventure from KinderCare:

Science Adventures(tm): Take the Adventure Home
Fun, hands-on science activities to engage your child in discovery learning

By Science Adventures’ Andy, the Science Wiz

Indoor Lawn

As spring buds to life around us, it is the perfect time to engage a young explorer in nature. Children will discover what seeds need to sprout when they nurture a dormant grass seed into mini-pet lawns.

What you will need:

1 brand new clean kitchen sponge
1 Plate
1 Gallon resealable baggie
1 Straw
Grass Seed (Any Variety)

What to do:

growing grass on a sponge

Learn how to grow grass on a sponge - fun with science!

Soak the sponge in cold water for a few minutes. Gently squeeze out the excess water, and place the sponge on a plate. Have your child sprinkle the sponge liberally with grass seed. Next, slide the plate into the baggie. Seal the baggie around the straw and have your child gently inflate the bag by blowing into the straw. Pull the straw out and seal the baggie. Success! You built a mini-inflatable green house.

Place the baggie on a sunny window sill.  Have your child check the baggie each day and report any changes they see. Make sure they add more water If the sponge dries out.

After the first day you should notice that water clings to the top of the baggie in droplets. This is because the sun has heated the water in the sponge causing it to evaporate, rise, and condense into drops. This is a great way of showing how clouds form and sometimes make rain.

After two days, the seeds should start to germinate, pushing out roots. The roots look white and fuzzy. The white strands are the roots seeking a home in some damp soil.

After 4 days, you will notice that the seeds have sprouted tiny green shoots. This is the grass. Each seed will produce one blade of grass.

After 7 days, you should have grown a small pet lawn.

What is happening:

Discuss what plants need to grow with your child. Plants need water, air, soil, sunlight, and space to grow. Our mini-green houses provided plenty of sunlight, water, air, and allowed the seeds to flourish using the nutrients that were packed in the seed. However, the sponge cannot provide nutrients long term. To continue the experiment, the grass can be peeled off the sponge and planted in a small pot.

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Disclosure: We will be comped the Spring Break camp at our local KinderCare learning center. Opinions here are my own and I am already a fan of the centers, hence it’s a good fit for us.

Giveaway: Smart & Final’s Ambiance Coffee

Going without coffee during my pregnancy was tough. I’m a big coffee drinker. A couple of cups every day, at minimum. Sometimes more. Think of me as the average or slightly above-average coffee drinker.

Ambiance coffeesSo when Smart & Final asked if I’d like to try their new line of Ambiance coffees, I said yes. We’d been stuck in a coffee rut for quite a while, so a change was just what we needed. Just before Christmas we received a sweet basket with an assortment of coffee.

We started out with the French Vanilla. We almost always use french vanilla creamer, so we were pretty sure it would be right up our alley. It totally was. I enjoyed a couple of cups during my morning routine of shuffling over to my computer and starting work. We later tried the other blends, of which Gourmet Supreme is probably my favorite with the House Blend coming a close second. My husband took the French Roast to work, which they liked. I’m not a huge french roast fan, so I was more than happy to have him take it. But I smacked his hand when he tried to make off with the Kona Blend before I got to try it. What? I just wanted to try some! Then he’s welcome to take it to them and get their opinions.

I liked them all and would drink any of them again. Really. I shop at Smart & Final a lot, so I have no doubt I’ll be making a run up there the next time our coffee is getting low. And now the good news.

How would you like a gift basket of all six Ambiance coffees? And what if said gift basket also included a Smart & Final gift card for $150? I thought so.

So how do you enter? I thought you’d never ask.

1. For one entry, leave me a comment with your favorite coffee moment. Make sure you leave your email so I can contact the winner.

2. For one additional entry each day, tweet about the giveaway using the #MyAmbianceMoment hashtag: “Enter to win an Ambiance Coffee gift pack & $150 gift card from @smartfinal http://bit.ly/ete5xs #MyAmbianceMoment” and then come back here and leave a link to your tweet. One per day only, please.

Contest deadline is February 8th at midnight PST. Comments after that will not be counted in the giveaway. Winner must respond within 24 hours or a new winner will be chosen.

Disclosure: As mentioned, I received a basket of coffees to try, along with an offer to send the same + gift card to a reader.

Want some more chances to win? Check out Mel’s giveaway (ends on the 8th) and Jen’s giveaway (ends on the 7th). Oh, and here’s Lily’s giveaway, too (ends on the 9th).

Update:

WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!

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And the winner was Deb from San Diego Momma! Thanks to everyone for your participation.

(Sorry for the delay in actually posting the results. I had let Deb know via Twitter, but I didn’t get a chance to note it here and then time got away from me and we’re already 2/3 of the way through February. Next thing I know, it’ll be July.)

Last minute gifts…

If we were in San Diego right now, I would totally hint to my husband to go to Tiffany & Co. for any last minute gift ideas. I’m seriously coveting their key necklaces, like this one:

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(Although that one is really out of our price range, I do love it.)

Or maybe this one:

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(Okay, so that one’s out of the price range, too.)

And this one, which was my favorite (but I don’t see it on the site right now – it was gorgeous in person)

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(photo shamelessly swiped from La Jolla Mom – that’s my hand in the pic!)

But this one is TOTALLY in our price range:

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So why am I dreaming of Tiffany? Because I got to have breakfast there several weeks ago, but didn’t get a chance to write about it because I was busy gestating and prepping to have a baby. But it was an awesome time, we got to try on jewelry to our hearts content (I tried on a ring that’s probably more than I’ll make, like, ever, which you can see on Jen’s hand here) and see the new yellow diamonds and leather collections.

After the new year, I’ll post a couple of the pics I took and maybe even hint again to hubby, since our anniversary comes up at the end of February. That should give him plenty of time to shop, right?

Disclosure: I received an invite to Tiffany & Co. to have a small breakfast and preview some of their holiday offerings (in early Nov.). I was not asked to write anything, but I did receive a Tiffany coffee mug as a gift.

Small Business Saturday – supporting local businesses

SBSLogo.jpgThanks to American Express for sponsoring my writing today about small businesses. American Express is presenting Small Business Saturday, a way to honor the local merchants who are the backbone of the economy, this Saturday, November 27. They’re offering statement credits to people who shop at small businesses, advertising for small-business owners, and donations to Girls Inc. for “Likes” of the Small Business Saturday page on Facebook. Join the celebration by clicking the “Like” button and then visiting the Facebook page to learn more about the program and read the terms and conditions that apply.

One thing I love about San Diego is the variety of small businesses we have here. You can find almost anything you’re looking for. It’s great to have so many choices available. When I want to avoid the big bookstores, I can go to Warwick’s in La Jolla. For fantastic, locally brewed coffee, I would definitely hit up Caffé Calabria (I just wish they were open a little longer in the afternoons!). If you look hard enough, you’ll find a local alternative for so many things.

Dining Details

Like personal chef services. I know that may sound strange coming from me, as much as I go on and on about hubby and I cooking things at home. But when I heard about Dining Details and got to know some of the services they offer, I was amazed. First off, Chef Julie Frans is a fellow mom and is quite active on Twitter. She has a fairly new baby girl who’s cute as a button. And she knows her stuff. In just the past couple of weeks, she offered cooking classes geared toward Thanksgiving – and it sounded like both the novice and experienced home cook could learn something.

But what I love most about what Julie does is her passion for fresh, healthy ingredients. Last spring I got a chance to see her in action as she demo’d several dishes for a group of local mom bloggers. She gave us great tips and advice about preparing amazingly healthy and tasty food for our families. It was fun and I learned several new things, including how to make a homemade alternative to store-bought creamers.

Chickpeas

The other thing that’s great about Julie’s biz is her enthusiasm for getting healthy lunches in the hands of school children. And that’s where Dining Details’ sister company, Chickpeas, comes into play. Chickpeas offers organic and all-natural lunches to kids in schools. Some schools have Chickpeas actually handle their lunch service — how awesome is that? I would absolutely love to have such well-prepared food in the hands of my kids when they’re in school.

It’s local businesses like this that I love to seek out and try. What’s your favorite local San Diego small business? Please feel free to share in the comments – even if you have more than one! I’m always looking for a great local place to give my business to. (PS – Julie doesn’t even know I’m featuring her biz – she has not asked me to do so and has not asked to be included in this post. I just really love what she does and hope others hear about her and do, too.)


Small Business Saturday

I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

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Good intentions

America's Test Kitchen Light & Healthy 2010 Light & Healthy 2010 from America’s Test Kitchen

I originally bought this book for the low-fat recipes. After a severe gallbladder attack, my doctor told me to cut down on fatty foods. I thought these recipes would be perfect, given how much we love America’s Test Kitchen. And the recipes are really good and I want to try a bunch of them.

BUT.

I’m also currently pregnant and have gestational diabetes, which means I also have to avoid sugar. It’s quite hard to find low-sugar recipes in this book. I’m not just talking about added sugar either. High carbs. Lots of fruit. Those all contribute to higher blood sugar for a diabetic and there are a LOT of those types of recipes in here. So even though I anticipated great things, I haven’t really used the cookbook that much. I certainly will after the baby’s born and some of my dietary restrictions are removed.

What I’d really like to see, though, are more diabetic-friendly recipes. It doesn’t need to take up the entire book, but how about a few thrown in here and there? Or a section just for low-sugar recipes? My ideal cookbook would contain low-fat, low-carb recipes with alternatives to fruit and sugar. Some fruit is fine, but dishes that rely heavily on it just won’t work.

If you want low-fat, I think you’ll like this cookbook. I’ll be cooking more from it very soon. But if you’re diabetic AND looking for low-fat recipes, you might want to take a really close look at the recipes before buying. Or stick with a diabetic-friendly cookbook. Maybe America’s Test Kitchen will come out with that next?

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Second verse, same as the first

I feel like I’m on repeat right now, saying the same old thing over and over.

Busy!

Tired!

Ready to get! this! kid! out!

And yet, that is my life right now. Getting a lot of Braxton Hicks today. They are ramping up. And that’s okay. Know why? I found some of the baby clothes. That’s right. We no longer have to bring him home from the hospital naked. Er, diaper only. Yes, I did a little happy dance in the garage when I found them. I don’t think that was all of them, but enough to get by for now. Even though I didn’t see the “My First Thanksgiving” onesie in there anywhere and I so wanted to have that out and ready to go. I mean, c’mon. How often do you get to use an item like that FOR BOTH SONS?

Of course, we still haven’t dug out the infant seat, so we don’t have anything to PUT HIM IN on the way home. Details. (Actually, that’s something hubby could do last minute if needed. But I’m hoping we can get to that tomorrow so it’s off the list.)

Drove the van a little more tonight. I so *love* the backup camera. Even though it feels weird to face forward instead of look over my shoulder as I’m backing out of a parking spot. It was quite helpful at Costco when some guy walked past INCHES from my bumper as I was moving my foot over to the gas pedal. So, the camera has already saved one pedestrian’s life. A stupid, clueless pedestrian that apparently doesn’t understand what backup lights mean, but still. LIFE SAVED thanks to the Odyssey.

Anyway. More appointments tomorrow and Thursday. More work deadlines. Still no full post on Tiffany & Co, but it IS COMING. Hopefully before the baby’s born. I can make NO PROMISES at this point.